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LSU's run, Jeremy Johnson's passing and other Auburn-LSU key stats

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Auburn hasn't won at LSU since 1999, having dropped each of its past seven games in Tiger Stadium. In fact, LSU has typically dominated when Auburn has come to visit, winning by an average of 16.6 points during the streak.

No. 18 Auburn (2-0) is once again the underdog as it prepares to visit the bayou Saturday, with ESPN's Football Power Index giving No. 13 LSU (1-0, 1-0 SEC) an 85 percent chance to win.

Let's take a look at three key stats to watch Saturday, courtesy of ESPN's Stats & Information research.

1. Auburn defending Fournette and LSU's running game: After rushing for 159 yards and three touchdowns to lead LSU to a 21-19 win over Mississippi State last weekend, Leonard Fournette has firmly established himself as one of the nation's top running backs.

The LSU sophomore has rushed for at least 100 yards and a touchdown in each of the past three games, tied for the second-longest active streak among active FBS players. Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's plan will certainly center around neutralizing Fournette's running ability, but that won't be easy for a defense that ranks 96th nationally against the run (199.5 YPG).

Of particular interest, watch whether Auburn defends the zone-read run any better than it has. Jacksonville State gashed Auburn repeatedly with runs and quarterback keepers out of the zone read, which is part of the reason why Auburn ranks last among Power 5 defenses against zone-read runs (293 yards allowed).

LSU coach Les Miles hinted Wednesday that his team would test Auburn's defense based upon some of the vulnerabilities his coaches saw on film. This unquestionably will fall into that category. Don't be surprised to see quarterback Brandon Harris and Fournette make some of these runs to see whether Auburn has fixed its issues.

2. Johnson's passing problems: This is probably the biggest discussion point entering Saturday's showdown. Jeremy Johnson, who was getting preseason buzz as a possible Heisman Trophy contender, has thrown some awful interceptions in Auburn's first two games.

The strangest thing is that the junior had played in 13 games and started twice and had never had these issues before. All five of his interceptions this season -- a total that is tied for the most in the FBS -- came on passes of 10 or more yards. His Total QBR on passes of 10-plus yards (12.8) is the second worst among Power 5 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 10 passes.

Oddly enough, Johnson's QBR on the same passes in his first two college seasons was 99.5, nearly a perfect score.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn insists that he still has faith in his quarterback, but Johnson can't afford to repeatedly throw into coverage the way he has against Louisville and Jacksonville State. LSU surrendered 335 passing yards last week to Dak Prescott as Mississippi State tried to rally back from a two-touchdown deficit, but Miles' team is known for having one of the nation's best secondaries.

3. Auburn running the zone-read: Perhaps this inefficiency also contributes to Johnson's issues. Johnson is nowhere near the runner that predecessor Nick Marshall was, which allows defenses to worry less about quarterback keepers out of the zone read.

Marshall made countless plays by either keeping the ball and running on the zone read or by drawing defenders in his direction only to stop running and throw to receivers they abandoned. Johnson is not that kind of player.

The zone read is a big part of what made Auburn's most successful offensive teams so explosive, using the dual-threat skills of quarterbacks like Marshall and Cam Newton. This year, however, one reason why Auburn is averaging nearly 80 fewer rushing yards per game (177.5 this season after averaging 255.5 in 2014) is because the zone read isn't working as well.

Auburn led Power 5 teams with 130 YPG on zone-read runs last season (including 6.0 YPC and 38.5 YPG from the quarterback position). This season, Auburn is averaging 49.0 YPG on runs from the zone read (including 3.5 ypc and minus-0.5 YPG from the quarterback).

Even a couple of Johnson runs from this look might open up a couple more passing lanes for Auburn's quarterback, much less make it a bit easier for Peyton Barber and Auburn's other backs to find running room.